The building construction industry accounts for 5% of global energy use and 10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A primary source of these emissions is the manufacture of building construction materials such as steel, cement, and glass. As aggressive building energy codes push new construction towards net-zero-energy and net-zero-carbon operations, corresponding efforts to reduce embodied energy and carbon from building construction materials must be pursued to achieve the decarbonization goals of the building sector. Over the past few decades, advancements in building energy codes—and in the underlying research on reducing operational energy consumption and related GHG emissions—have stimulated changes in building design and operation. In contrast, strategies to reduce embodied carbon in the remaining life-cycle stages of a building are less defined and studied. This paper provides a comprehensive review of the current state of knowledge of embodied carbon in buildings and identifies knowledge gaps. It provides a basis for governments, academia, industry, and other stakeholders to collaboratively fill in these gaps and develop standards and codes to decarbonize buildings while also driving decarbonization in manufacturing.
Ming Hu is an Associate Professor at School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, University of Maryland, College Park, affiliate faculty in the National Center for Smart Growth and Maryland Transportation Institute. She teaches technology courses focused on the integration of architectural design with structural, materials and building performance assessment. Her research focuses on high-performance building design and lifecycle assessment at the intersection of energy, human health and environmental impact. Interested readers may learn more about her here.
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Esram, N. W., and M. Hu. 2021. Knowledge Infrastructure: The Critical Path to Advance Embodied Carbon Building Codes. Washington, DC: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. aceee.org/white-paper/2021/12/knowledge-infrastructure-critical-path-advance-embodied-carbon-building-codes